Ser Familia founder Belisa Urbina: “Do whatever you can, but just do something.”

For our 21st Century Plague project, we spoke with 17 Georgians about the toll of COVID-19.


For our 21st Century Plague project, we spoke with 17 Georgians about the toll of COVID-19. Below, Belisa Urbina—founder and executive director of Ser Familia, a Norcross-based nonprofit that provides services to Latino families—describes her concerns for her organization and her community. (Urbina was interviewed on March 23.)

My husband’s family is from Spain, so we knew what was going on there. We knew what was going on in other places. I knew that if this was happening in all these other countries, it was going to happen to us because we are connected. Flights are coming in and out. People are moving around.

We provide services to about 4,500 people. This crisis has had a profound effect. We made the decision to keep our offices open. The services that we provide are very difficult to find. To give you an idea, there are 700,000 Latinos in metro Atlanta but there are less than 70 counselors who are fully licensed that can speak Spanish. There are four psychologists in the state of Georgia who can speak Spanish, and there are five psychiatrists who can speak Spanish. Latino children have twice the chance of having anxiety and depression compared to other teens. Our Latina girls, almost 20 percent of them attempt suicide.

We’re able to provide [clients] with extremely qualified personnel, free of charge. [Clients] don’t have to be documented. They just have to make a commitment that they’ll make their appointments. We have a very strict attendance policy, but that’s the only thing we ask of them.

Our community works in hospitality, restaurants, construction. Those are the first industries that are affected. We have already had clients who have lost their jobs. Now our clients have whatever issues they were having plus one more. And it’s a big one. They know that they’re probably not going to be able to pay rent at the beginning of April. There’s a lot of anxiety.

My nightmare is that one of my employees gets sick, and I have to close my office and our families have nowhere to go. At the moment what we need most are donations or gift cards. One donor asked if she could bring baby formula, and I said yes, that would be fantastic. We have another person who asked if they could bring baskets of food. Yes, whatever you think you can do. We are very grateful.

We always have food baskets in our offices. But we now need three or four times as much to make sure that we are able to provide support for the families.

Many times you don’t feel connected to people from other communities. This pandemic has proved how connected we are. Nobody can say that they have not been touched by this. I am Latina, but if something is happening to my friends in the black community, it’s my problem. I have to do something about it because they’re my people. With everything that’s happening to the Asian community, I feel so sad that people have made them feel they are to blame for the situation which they’re not. We need everybody’s help so we can survive. There will be repercussions from this that we can’t even imagine right now. Do whatever you can, but just do something.

Interview edited for length and clarity.